SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Don't blame schools for students who fail

The use of the title "No exit" (April 22) for an editorial about the High School Assessment test program was, at best, ironic.

The play of the same name by Jean-Paul Sartre is about an experience with no resolution that is ultimately revealed to be hell. For many educators, the experience of the High School Assessments and of the No Child Left Behind law is just that kind of an experience.

But that's not an issue about the question of holding teachers and schools accountable.

The editorial states that "ultimately it's the accountability of the schools that's at issue."

As a high school educator, I take exception to that statement because it suggests that the schools and their staffs are the reason for the lack of success by many students.

The real issue is not the accountability of schools but the accountability of our politicians and governments.

It is much easier to take schools to task than to face the real issues of poverty, social dysfunction and related problems.

One can own a splendid, high-performing automobile, but if the road that it is to traverse is full of potholes and obstacles, its acceleration will be limited.

It is time to have a conversation about fixing the road of our students' education.

I would assert that the reasons many students fail the HSA are related to issues outside the purview of the schools.

If politicians want schools to be accountable, they need to empower us with the resources we need.

Is it possible that one of the costs of being a nation of consumers out for a bargain is that we have become unwilling to pay the price?

As in the play No Exit, we characters have to stop lying to ourselves about the situation.

Then Sartre would be proud.

Edward Kitlowski

Baltimore

The writer is a teacher at Loch Raven High School and co-chairman of the Maryland State Teachers Association's task force on the No Child Left Behind law.

More guns can keep our campuses safer

Thomas F. Schaller's column "More guns on campus?" (Opinion

Commentary, April 18) contained numerous factual and logical problems.

First, Mr. Schaller implies that John Lott's gun-related research is flawed, and references an academic paper by John J. Donohue that took issue with Mr. Lott's coding of robbery rates in states that allow concealed-carry gun permits.

However, Mr. Lott's work analyzed violent crime rates in general, not merely robbery, and Mr. Donohue's paper does not address broader crime trends.

Furthermore, in the years since the Donohue paper was released in 1999, Mr. Lott has thoroughly and completely responded to its concerns, bolstering his original claims.

Second, Mr. Schaller made a snide point that Mr. Lott lost the survey that backed up his claim that "98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack."

While this is true, Mr. Schaller neglects to mention that Mr. Lott subsequently redid the survey, and came up with virtually the same figure.

Finally, Mr. Schaller writes that keeping guns off college campuses is a goal worthy of sacrifice.

But, to paraphrase Mr. Schaller, the "millions of students trooping to class armed with" only their ideas will remain vulnerable to the psychopaths of the world, who are not deterred by gun laws, as long as his "Pollyannaish, liberal thinking" continues to dominate America's universities.

The Virginia Tech shooting taught us nothing if not that.

Chris DeAdder

Chapel Hill, N.C.

Curb public access to violent images

Like thousands of other readers, I am completely appalled by the massacre at Virginia Tech.

Most of the opinions I have heard about this tragedy focus on the easy access to guns in this country, and how this contributed to this disaster.

And indeed, guns do contribute to such killings, whether purchased legally or illegally.

But there is another factor to consider - the easy access to depictions of violence, hatred and horror scenes provided by the media in TV, movies and many other sources ("Will publicizing the horror inspire others to imitate it?" April 22).

These images can certainly fuel the imagination of a mentally disturbed person, or anyone else for that matter, and help prompt him or her to carry out a scenario of destruction.

We have put a limit on smoking in public places to prevent terminal diseases and are finally making efforts to curb global warming.

Perhaps if there were limits to the easy viewing of ways to take human lives, we'd have fewer disasters like the one at Virginia Tech.

Freda Garelick

Baltimore

Bias still big issue in the workplace

I read the article "Gender pay gap widens, study says" (April 23) with much interest because I have been a victim of gender bias and continue to see many other victims today.

Most of these people are working for small businesses that have fewer than 15 employees and therefore are not covered by some of the state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

The Maryland legislature should be taking up these issues. All businesses, even those with fewer than 15 employees, should be covered under anti-discrimination laws, and there should be strict remedies for gender bias and racial bias.

Also, there should be a "week's pay for a week's work" law under which any worker in the state who earns less than $75,000 a year must be paid each week.

If Gov. Martin O'Malley really wants to help the working families of Maryland, he will push for legislation that helps all of us worker bees.

Harriet M. Baverman

Owings Mills

The writer worked in human resources management for more than 20 years.

Idea of living wage began in Baltimore

In 1993, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) conceived the "living-wage" concept.

After a year of organizing and campaigning, BUILD was able to persuade Baltimore's City Council to pass the first living-wage law in the country.

Throughout BUILD's campaign, the organization was confronted with two major arguments against the city's enacting a living wage bill: first, that the city would go broke, and second, that if such a bill passed, businesses would flee the city and downtown expansion efforts would come to a halt.

We know that neither of these dire predictions came true.

Two things, however, have happened since the passage of the law.

First, thousands of Baltimoreans who make a living wage are no longer working for their poverty. Second, the idea has been deemed so beneficial that more than 100 local jurisdictions have passed living-wage laws.

With this history in mind, BUILD takes special satisfaction in Maryland's becoming the first state in the nation to become a living-wage state ("Bill sets up pay grades for urban, rural areas," April 10).

Organizations such as Progressive Maryland and many of the state's unions deserve credit for diligently and persistently pursuing this legislation year after year.

BUILD is aware, however, that without the commitment and leadership of Gov. Martin O'Malley, this groundbreaking legislation never would have happened.

The governor campaigned promising to enact such a law, and he kept his promise.

Congratulations to our governor are in order.

Bishop Douglas Miles

Baltimore

The writer is a co-chairman of BUILD.

Softer sentences a scourge on city

I am writing to point out the jurisdictional disparity in justice.

The Sun's article "Soldier gets 30 years in Edgewood car theft" (April 11) reports that a soldier who stole a car that was running at a convenience store, and had a 5-year-old child inside, got a sentence of 30 years in prison.

The soldier probably didn't know the kid was in the car until he took off, and no physical harm was inflicted upon this child. However, in Harford County, this man was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

But in Baltimore, a man was sentenced to just 20 years in prison for beating 2-year-old Andrea Carroll-Butler to death with his fist ("Man gets 20 years in toddler's death," April 7).

Does this make sense to anyone?

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's Let's Make a Deal form of justice is the real scourge on Baltimore.

Ms. Jessamy should stop blaming the police for her mistakes and resign her position.

Instead, she got a huge pay raise.

Mark Keller

Bel Air

The writer is a retired Baltimore police officer.

Diplomacy only way out of Iraq mess

Trudy Rubin is right: The Bush administration is as blind as ever ("Bush sees light -years too late" Opinion

Commentary, April 17).

Witness the recent babble about the war in Iraq being won or lost and its consequences.

This is just that - babble.

Iraq has never been America's to win or lose. Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq, and it is theirs to win or lose.

The Bush administration, through ignorance and ideological delusions, and cheered on by its neoconservative supporters and now Sen. John McCain, started something in Iraq that it cannot finish without destroying thousands more Iraqi lives and hundreds more American lives.

The reality is that a democratic Iraq is, and always will be, an Islamic, Shiite-majority nation with close ties to its neighbor, Iran. Any freely elected government will reflect that reality, as the present government does.

The Bush administration has not come to terms with that reality.

Instead, it has tried to form an alliance of some of the region's autocrats - i.e., Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, all regimes that turn a blind eye as materiel and insurgents pour into Iraq from their countries to kill and maim U.S. service personnel - against Iran.

To resolve the Iraqi conflict, there must be real regional diplomacy, something the Bush administration has been loath to explore so far.

The United States must engage Syria and Iran in direct, unconditional negotiations based on mutual respect.

Otherwise, nothing will change.

And the cost of President Bush's adventure in Iraq, in men and materiel, will continue to mount, with no end in sight.

Fariborz S. Fatemi

McLean, Va.

The writer is a former staff member for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Release betrays hypocrisy on terror

On April 10, President Bush stated: "I vowed that if you harbor a terrorist, you're equally as guilty as the terrorist. That's a doctrine. In order for this country to be credible, when the president says something, he must mean it."

Last week, a cell door in New Mexico swung open and Luis Posada Carriles - a man wanted for an act of terrorist mass murder - went free, making his way to Miami escorted by U.S. marshals and his lawyer ("U.S. releases Cuban bomb suspect on bail," April 20).

So much for the Bush doctrine.

Washington is now openly harboring a terrorist who is widely believed to have murdered 73 people by organizing the planting of a bomb on a civilian airliner in 1976.

The Cuban passenger plane, which had originated in Venezuela, blew up over the Caribbean waters near Barbados. At that time, this bombing constituted the most deadly act of terrorism ever carried out in the Western Hemisphere.

Among the dead were all 24 members of the Cuban fencing team, many of them teenagers, who had just won the 1975 Central American-Caribbean championship. Also killed were Guyanese medical students, ages 18 and 19.

It is worth remembering these young victims as shock and sorrow is felt throughout the United States over the slaughter of students of roughly the same age at Virginia Tech.

Venezuela formally demanded that the U.S. extradite Mr. Carriles to face trial for this crime in June 2005 under existing treaties between the two countries. The Bush administration has ignored the request.

In 1985, as he awaited the completion of his trial in the airline bombing case, Mr. Carriles escaped from a Venezuelan prison.

He has remained under U.S. protection ever since and worked with CIA operatives in Central America in the illegal "contra" war against Nicaragua during the 1980s.

I believe that the Bush administration refuses to extradite Mr. Carriles to Venezuela or Cuba because he was Washington's own terrorist, trained and paid by the CIA to carry out acts of terrorism.

To place him on trial would threaten to expose a long history of international aggression and criminality organized by the United States.

Although the Bush doctrine has been cited as a reason for invading Afghanistan and Iraq, and is again invoked in preparation for another possible war against Iran, the case of Mr. Carriles shows that this supposed principle is nothing more than a cynical pretext for launching wars.

Michael Melick

Baltimore

Bag tax could cure the city's trash woes

We have a serious trash problem in Baltimore. And I have a solution I hope people will consider: a bag tax.

In many other countries, people pay a minimum cost for a plastic bag at the grocery store, perhaps 5 cents or so.

Because these bags have some small value, most people make a conscious effort to re-use them. If the person buying the bag doesn't recycle it, you can bet that someone else will.

In countries where people pay for bags, you don't see bunches of them stuck in trees the way you do in Baltimore.

I think a bag tax would be a great tax because it would not hurt the poor the way, for example, a cigarette tax could.

Poor people could just save and reuse bags.

In fact, people who complain about the tax could also recycle their bags.

The only people the tax would hurt are those who want the convenience of getting new bags every time at the store. These people would have to pay for that convenience, and this money could be used to pay for sanitation and cleaning up bags and other trash.

A bag tax would also reduce the number of bags produced and this, in turn, would conserve energy at a time when energy conservation is critical.

Julie Dietrich-Eisler

Baltimore

Tubman homestead also open to public

I read with interest Tom Pelton's article on the proposed Harriet Tubman visitors center on the Eastern Shore ("Md. approves funds to establish Tubman center," April 19). But I took exception to his claim that "the only museum devoted to her today is a small storefront exhibit run by volunteers in Cambridge."

Mr. Pelton seems to have overlooked the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, N.Y., which was restored in 1953 and has been run as a museum dedicated to her life ever since.

Tubman lived on that site for nearly 40 years, and built two houses on the 26-acre site following the Civil War.

I visited the site as a child, as did most central New Yorkers.

Knowing about this long-established museum, I was also curious that the statement cited in the article by Donald Pinder, the president of the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge - "the educational center will mean she's finally getting her due" - went unchallenged, as did the reporting of her relatives' complaints that Tubman's life "never received the attention from historians and the public that she merited."

I think most citizens, young and old, are familiar with Tubman's life and could easily identify her image.

Paul K. Williams

Baltimore

The author is an architectural historian.

Mental illness, social ills and murder

I am sorry to say that preventing mass murder by predicting who might engage in such behavior is a practical impossibility ("Psychiatric intervention must have place on campus," Opinion Commentary, April 24).

This is because of a phenomenon known to psychologists as the "base rate problem."

In essence, what this means is that in the case of a very rare phenomenon such as mass killings, a test or other predictor of the behavior that is as accurate as any devised by behavioral scientists will yield far more incorrect predictions than correct ones.

While such a test or indicator may identify a few instances of the behavior correctly, it will miss many more and give many false positives.

In a society such as ours, preventive detention and coerced treatment of threatening individuals is therefore impossible.

Many totally innocent people would be affected by such an approach. And current treatments for mental illnesses are frequently of limited effectiveness, if a diagnosis can even be agreed upon.

There will always be individuals in our society who are visibly different and socially inept.

Unfortunately, brutal rejection of such people frequently occurs among adolescents, if not at an earlier age. And this may result in the accumulation of anger that eventually becomes uncontrollable.

The depictions of violence that permeate our culture may then give form to subsequent explosions of rage.

If such individuals were treated with kindness and acceptance during their formative years, at least some well-known mass murders and assassinations might have been prevented.

Yet few of us resist our inclinations to ignore such persons or treat them worse than that.

Edward Leslie Ansel

Owings Mills

The writer is a licensed psychologist.

As a person with chronic and persistent mental illness, I write to address the human toll taken by the shootings at Virginia Tech, but also the toll of untreated psychiatric illness.

In a world as complex as ours, it is the plight of those of us with such illnesses that ordinary daily challenges can seem insurmountable.

But after many years in treatment, I have learned that the salve that was the balm for my pain was to be listened to - to feel as if I were heard.

We need to hear each other; we need to summon compassion and loving kindness.

If Seung-Hui Cho had been heard, how many lives would have been saved?

Leslie Robin Kassal

Towson

Many reports have linked the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech to mental illness.

But I would like to respond by citing the words of Dr. Ken Duckworth, the medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

"Despite media reports, Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter in the tragedy, may not actually have had a serious mental illness relative to other diagnoses. But the possibility opens the door for reflection on the nature of mental illnesses - what they are and what they are not- with regard to symptoms, treatment and risks of violence.

"The U.S. surgeon general has reported that the likelihood of violence by people with mental illness is low. ... More often, people living with mental illness are the victims of violence."

The point is that having a mental illness does not predispose a person to violence.

And while Mr. Cho may or may not have had a mental illness, he unquestionably had ready access to firearms.

In this respect, he was like most Americans.

In 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released statistics showing that firearms were used in 68 percent of all homicides in the United States.

The next-largest category of weapons used in murders in the FBI study was called "unknown or other dangerous weapons," and they were used in just 13 percent of murders.

These are staggering figures. If we think of them as buildings, gun homicides would be a four-story house, while those committed with knives, fists, etc., would amount to small gardening sheds.

The calamity in Virginia may lend support for increased focus on proper diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. It certainly supports the need to control the raging infection of gun violence in our country.

Bob Wirtz

Baltimore

The writer is a volunteer and teacher for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

C. Fraser Smith's focus on mental illness as a contributor to the Virginia Tech massacre ("Massacre at Virginia Tech raises vexing old question," Opinion

Commentary, April 22) stresses one important part of our national debate - one that has rehashed the same risk factors after every massacre since the 1960s.

This repetitive debate always includes the need for early recognition and treatment of mental illness; the paucity of mental health care providers; gun control and security measures; and the media frenzy of dissecting the perpetrator's life.

Yet tragically, this massacre, like all preceding it, shall soon pass from our consciousness, until, God forbid, another one occurs.

But before it does, we should also ask if there is a relationship between our government's propensity to resolve world conflicts through military means, not dialogue (i.e., with Iraq, Iran and Syria), and our individual propensity to resolve conflicts or threats, real or perceived, through violence.

And we should also ask: What if we, as a nation, expanded our intellectual horizons to think beyond our cultural ills and assess the potentially immoral impact of our capitalistic society, which gratifies the "me" by abandoning the "we"?

Why are we an isolationist society?

What is the epidemiology of fear, isolation and greed of a society in which bumper stickers, T-shirts and guns so often do our talking?

Sociologist Robert Putnam's essay "Bowling Alone" and Emile Durkheim's studies highlight the lonely void in our human souls and social relations that capitalism can inflict on societies.

Do we dare challenge the foundation of our madness?

Dr. Mohamed Khodr

Winchester, Va.

The writer is a former public health director for the Virginia Department of Health.

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